John Sexton didn’t seem to mind the South Florida sun beating down hard and hot as he guided visitors on a tour of Turnberry Isle Miami resort’s Chef’s Garden. In fact, the Executive Chef at the beautifully-landscaped 300-resort in the North Miami enclave of Aventura (www.turnberryislemiami.com) delighted in showing off the thee-quarter acre Garden’s fruit trees (banana, avocado, papaya) , herbs, spices and vegetables. He even likes the spider webs.
“We like the bugs. The bugs are good for us on so many levels,” Sexton said with a smile. “We want the spiders to stay.”
The Garden is Sexton’s starting point for many of the fruit, herbs and spices that go into dishes at Turnberry Isle’s two main restaurants – celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak and the more casual Mediterranean-style Cascata Grill. The Garden’s rosemary, for example, is used in Bourbon Steak’s terrific French Fry appetizer plate; the Caribbean cherries can be found on amenities plates; sugar cane (two varieties) is used as skewers for grilling fish and shellfish; lemongrass also is used for skewers and to flavor Thai dishes.
Sexton, who was named Executive Chef this past July, recently planted some Muscadine grapes and plans to soon add heirloom tomatoes and peppers.
“There’s no way I can grow for all my needs, but I utilize what we grow here,” Sexton said. “I have to supplement with buying. I don’t have to buy very much herbs but I do in terms of fruits. And as I get into the vegetables, it’s like an experiment to see what we can grow and what we can augment our menus with.”
Regardless of how the fruits, vegetables and herbs are used, Sexton sees the Chef’s Garden as an extension of his culinary philosophy, which is taking what he calls “familiar” foods and giving them a different look.
“The big thing the past few years has been to deconstruct food,” Sexton said. I don’t want to do that. I want to rebuild it. Maybe present it in a different way.”
Case in point: A macaroni and cheese plate, which is often served these days with lobster or truffles. At Cascata, Sexton serves his macaroni and cheese with duck.
“Sort of duck-aroni and cheese – corkscrew pasta with roast duck with fresh herbs from the garden. It’s macaroni and cheese but it’s not. “It’s about approachability and familiarity. If I put things on the menu that you’re familiar with, you’re going to like it and remember it.”